Archive for the ‘Hot water solar panels’ Category

A New Year and new challenges

March 15, 2011

I took a bit of a holiday from the house building business, and spent a month including Christmas and New Year in Newfoundland catching up with friends and family and enjoying the “fleshpots” of the Newfoundland holiday season.   I had got my radiant heating system up and running on the backup heat source with the natural gas tankless heater heating the water in my 80 gallon solar storage tank.  The plumbers had finished most of the copper plumbing in the attic connecting the manifolds of the solar panels on the roof, but ran out of acetylene which they needed to do the silver solder on the copper pipes and there were two joints that would not hold pressure.   I had arranged to have my friend Ron of the strawbale house down the street, keep an eye on my radiant heating system which was still in start-up mode.   Since he had gone through similar setup with his house not long ago, was well adapted to overseeing it.   Just after  I got on the plane to NL, there was a major dump of snow here in Ontario,  and Ron complained by email of having to slog through the drifts.  Fortunately with  a little tweaking on his part the heating worked quite nicely and reached equilibrium a few days after I left.

When I got back from Newfoundland on January 11,  all that snow had melted, but in another couple days there was again snow on the ground and the roof.   I was able to schedule plumbers to come and finish the solar panel plumbing and it then passed muster holding pressure.   We also  re-organized the loop from the tank-less heater which was doing weird things and got air locked regularly.   Had been taking water from the middle of  of the storage tank and feeding it back into the top after heating.   Now take water from the middle, and feed it in at the bottom.   The system is much happier!    At that point the plumbing was compete to the solar panels, but the roof was loaded with ice and snow, so no prospect of installing the evacuated tubes in the panel manifolds.

There was a really cold spell during my absence, and unfortunately the battery on my VW Jetta  ran down because of issues I had with an ignition switch frozen in accessory position.  Net result a wrecked battery which had frozen.   I also had the final insult to the blower motor of the propane furnace of my trailer. I thought I had left the furnace turned down really low and had an electric heater to keep the interior from getting really cold,  but apparently had left the furnace thermostat set higher than intended.  Net result, exhausted the propane tank, and the dumb furnace controller runs the fan forever when there is no propane, you have to turn the furnace off to at the thermostat to get it to stop.  The fan motor bearings were on their last legs, would make noise on startup, but running indefinitely pushed them over the edge and the motor was non-functional when I got back.

Since I had two ceramic heaters I was able to make the trailer temps livable since I have it winterized with plexiglass storm windows and an insulating skirt, but set about finding a replacement motor.  By far the best price I could find was at which is part of Wild Tangent Ventures Inc. in Tuscon, AZ.   I had a bit of trouble getting their online ordering system to work, and they saw my incomplete order and contacted me by email.  When I tried again, I got the order and was astounded at the low shipping cost.  It turns out there was a glitch in the program, and it undercharged me for shipping, but they shipped at that price anyway.  GOOD PEOPLE! They also ship by USPost which avoids the exorbitant brokerage fee with FedX or UPS for coming across the border.  It got here in good time, and with a bit of fiddling and cold hands got the furnace up and running again.

Just to make my life even more interesting, my MacBook laptop, not quite a year in my hands, had the hard drive crash at the end of January.  It was really close but it was still in warranty, and I had been using the Time Machine backup system so in theory everything was backed up on an external drive.  I got the new hard-drive for free, but  getting  a really complete restoration of everything was so complicated I had to pay the Mac technician to get it done.  Painful, but money well spent because I had wasted an entire weekend trying unsuccessfully to do it myself.

In the meantime, I was  working away at preparing my floors for staining.   This was a multiple step process.  1. thoroughly scrub floor with soap and water.  2. Treat with an etching chemical to prepare surface for  staining.  3. REALLY scrub the surface to remove the treatment product and leave the surface ready for stain  4. Stain the floors    5. Apply sealer.       I have chosen to use a set of water based chemicals which are rated much less toxic (to me and the environment) than the acid stain process and epoxy sealers which have been in common use for many years.   I had seen a demo of these products at the Form and Build shop which supplies a wide variety of tools and finshes/chemicals for doing concrete construction, and liked the reduced hazard and “green” features.  I started out doing the scrubbing  with rubber gloves and a scrub brush,  followed by the wet vac to pick up the dirt and water.   Quickly found that was not doing good things to my back and other joints, so rented a commercial floor scrubber from Home Depot.   Thought I could finish the prep work in two days, but figured out after two 14 hour days alternating between scrubber and wet vac, that it would take four days to get the job done.   I was one tired puppy by the time I brought the scrubber back the Home Depot at the end of the 4th day.    I sort of empathized with the guy in the joke who was banging his head against the wall.  When asked why he was doing it, answered “because it feels so good when I stop “:)  After a day of recovery  I started working on the staining.  First go was the walk-in closet in the master BR, quickly determined the dilution factor was too dark, and tried to remove some stain with a roller.   Final result was not happy, very streaky.  Had to do another coat, darker than I really wanted but more uniform.  Final dilution ratio was 12 to 1 distilled H2O to stain.

In the second week in February the weather warmed up and snow melted including all the snow and ice on the roof.   At that point I connected with my friend Ron and Ken Cochrane another of my close neighbors came over to help and we installed the evacuated tubes in the solar panels.  D-Day  was Feb 18 and we  had an assembly line.   Ken was in the house unpacking the tubes and greasing the end of the heat pipe with silicone. He  passed them out the door to Ron who was on the scaffold,  from there to me on the roof  where I inserted each one into the manifold and Ron screwed in the retainer cap to hold the tube from sliding out.  Went lickety split, done with all 60 tubes in a little over 2 hours.   It was almost 5 pm when we were finished but already the panels were hot enough that the controller computer turned on the pump and we collecting heat from the tubes.   It has not been a particularly sunny winter, lots of snow and full or partial overcast.  On the first really bright sunny day,  the solar panels brought the temp in the storage tank up to 180 F, the max the controller would allow, and then shut off the pump so the water drained back into the reservoir.  The collector temperature under the stagnant conditions with no water in the manifold, rose to 409F .   My strategy now on sunny days is to turn up the thermostat so I’m pulling heat out of the tank at the same time as panels are putting heat in.   Maximizes the heat I can capture and store in the water tank and the floor and don’t get tank temp so high that the pump shuts off and I stop collecting calories.

February 18, Evacuated tubes installed in the solar panels.

February 21, Snow again!

Snow partially cleared from the panels.

Snow brushed off the solar panels.

All three panels cleared of snow.

Part of my life and engagement with the community is a continuation of my passion for choral music. As a consequence I sing in two choirs, plus a church choir. In my near community this is the Glencoe community choir called Voiceprints, as well as the London-based London Pro Musica an auditioned high level choir with a long history of excellence. Net result is that I have rehearsals pretty much every Monday and Tuesday evening, the Monday rehearsal of course taking me to London. I usually try to combine the Monday trip with errands I may need to run in relation to stuff I need for the house project, and one place I regularly check out is the Sears outlet store, which is just down the street from another of my regular haunts, the Costco store. On one of my visits I noticed an mahogany armoire with a small scratch on its finish that was price reduced by almost 70% and was a perfect fit for the space in my bedroom hallway were I was planning to build a movable linen cabinet. It is real wood, and the price was right so I made it mine, and a couple days later my friend Don helped me bring it home with his pickup.

My new linen closet/ armoire for the bedroom hallway.

A major commitment of LPM for the winter season was to travel to Kingston, ON on March 5 for a joint concert with the Cantabile choir directed by Mark Sirett. As warmup of repertoire and presentation to our local audience we did a joint concert with the choirs from Medway High School, which also has a long history of choral excellence, on Feb 26. Since I have a daughter who lives in Montreal I have not visited in a while, I chose to drive to Kingston rather than taking the bus which the choir had hired.

The weather was not entirely cooperative, had pouring rain for the trip to Kingston on Saturday, where the rehearsal and concert went swimmingly 🙂

March 5, Rehearsal in St George's Anglican church of Cantabile choir.

Had a full house at St. Georges Anglican Cathedral, more than 600 people who were enthusiastically appreciative. That night it snowed, significantly 😦 Sang an additional engagement at the service of the Chalmers United Church Sunday morning and then it was hit the road to Montreal.

First 100 km was dicey, snow-packed occasionally icy spots on the road, and some drivers with death wishes who insisted on driving far faster than conditions warranted. After I got away from the lake effect snow coming off Lake Ontario, the road improved and I made it into Montreal before dark. That night MORE snow, about 20cm, so I had to dig out my car the next morning. Montreal has very good snow clearing, so major streets were open right away, but enough snow so parking areas took a while to open up. Did a bit of out and about around town, traffic was light, I gather it was a school snow day. When we decided to go to a movie on Monday night, at a huge multiplex in the old hockey temple the Forum, we had a private screening, just the two of us in the theater. Tuesday morning headed back home to the country, once I got outside Montreal the highway was clear and dry. Made it back in time for choir practice with my other choir 🙂

Stained sealed floor in dining room area.


Hot water, solar panels and finish details

November 15, 2010

I now began to aggressively research my options as far as getting a hot water storage tank with 2 heat exchangers that would be appropriate for my planned hot water solar panels to provide heat in the radiant floor circuits when needed to supplement what is coming in the windows. My first check was with local plumbing supply houses, and when they would not give me a price quote, through my plumbing contractor, Mike Noe of CPE. What I needed was going to be expensive so I cast my net further afield checking with a solar energy specialist in upstate NY, and got a very competitive quote on an appropriate tank that saved me roughly $1000. They also were having a Fall promotional sale on solar panels (probably to move out existing stock at the end of the main construction season) so I decided to jump forward and get my solar panels at the same time. I ordered 3 – 20 tube evacuated tube heat pipe solar panels rated at 28,000 btu/day each, a drain back tank, fittings, pumps, and an electronic solar controller, as well as the 80 gallon storage tank. I arranged to go to their office and warehouse in Bainbridge, NY and pick the stuff up on Friday October 15. My timing was complicated by the fact that the appliances (stove and frig) I had put on layaway from the Boxing day sales last winter were being delivered on Thursday afternoon. So after receiving and securing them I loaded up and headed East, with a first stop in London to get a bank draft, and then on to Bainbridge.

My GPS was overly optimistic in terms of the driving time required to get there and I was planning on stopping at a reasonable time near destination and getting a motel. By the time I got to that geography, it was 2AM, and I just pulled into a parking area, climbed the back of the van with a blanket and slept until about 7AM.

Rolled in to Bainbridge about 7:30, had some breakfast at a diner and showed up at Silcon Solar shortly after they opened for the day. After a bit of consultation with the installer/engineer decided on the final assortment of bits I would get, settled the payment and headed out to the warehouse which was a few miles away on the other side of town. Morning had dawned gray and wet with building wind and heavy rain and I had my sturdy tarpaulin and bungee cords which I thought would be adequate to cover my precious load and keep it dry in my trailer. Started off and before I got back to Bainbridge it was apparent I needed more tiedowns to keep the tarp from flapping wildly. After a vist to the Dollar store had more bungees, and it seemed to be doing well but then I got on the interstate and more or less up to a safe cruising speed. The tarp started to flap wildly in spite of the tie-downs, split up the middle and was doing nothing to protect the packages in the trailer. Hence I had to pull of and hunt for a building supply outlet and get another tarp and even more bungees. I also had a bunch ratchet strap tie downs in the van which I used over the months to secure loads in the trailer, and with a combination of the bungees around the edges and 3 ratchet straps from front to back of the trailer was able to control the effect of the wind on the tarp and finally about 12:30 really got started on the trek back home.

It was decidedly unpleasant driving with the wind and rain and after a couple of hours the short night began to catch up with me and I pulled into a rest area for a nap. Still not really sure what happened, but when I woke up from my snooze, my battery was so low the engine wouldn’t start. I determined I had left my headlights on, and maybe had my foot on the brakes so the electric brakes were also draining power. Had a moment of panic but I had my jumper cables, and the first people I encountered as I headed toward the bathrooms were willing to give me a boost, so in short order I was back on the road.

The nasty rain and wind continued nearly till I reached the border as daylight was fading and it was dry pavement from there till I got home at about midnight, where I crashed for a recovery sleep. Next morning was dry and sunny, and peeled of the tarp and loaded everything into the garage. On Monday I ordered an additional two pumps which I need for the system, and the specialized pipe insulation for the lines to the solar panels. In about a week I should have pretty much everything I will need to assemble the solar hot water system. Below are pictures of my new stove and fridge in the newly painted kitchen area, Silicon Solar location and of the boxes of the components I acquired,.

Stove and fridge in their approximate final locations.

Slightly different angle showing the painted surfaces of the kitchen area. Paint color is called Warm Hug:)

Silicon Solar sales office.

More of the demo solar panels at the sales office.

Hot water storage tank and all the solar components in boxes. Some assembly required 🙂

A "found" dresser left out by one of my neighbors. Solid real hardwood, must be good for something 🙂

After recovering from my trip over the weekend and reading the operating manual for my solar controller, I decided it didn’t make sense to have two pumps working in parallel to pump water to the solar panels and called Silicon Solar to cancel the back ordered pump which would have doubled the pump input with two small pumps.

I then ordered a larger single pump which would be able to pump water to the height needed at an appropriate flow rate (Taco 008 a cast iron pump housing) and a small bronze housing pump to circulate potable water from the storage tank to the tankless natural gas powered heater if the solar panels are not generating enough heat for radiant heating and household use. I also, on the recommendation of the Silicon Solar people located a source for high temperature pipe insulation to insulate the pipe circuit to the solar panels. Placed my orders by phone and had them shipped to the Bluewater Ferry as per earlier strategy for US shipping sources. The pump source was Pex Universe a plumbing supply house in Brooklyn, NY, and the pipe insulation was from AltEstore in Massachussets. They both arrived at the ferry by Friday and I buzzed over and picked them up.

I then set about to begin assembling the pieces of my solar system starting by moving the hot water storage tank into the mechanical room from the landing zone in the garage. Also got some help from my friend Ron of the strawbale house down the street to put up my range hood so the kitchen will be ready for cooking shortly. The following Monday I got a voicemail message from the folks at Silicon Solar telling me they had shipped the back-ordered pump which was still on my bill for the the system 😦 So I planned to make a trip to pick it up at the ferry later in the week. I had also scheduled the gas company to hook up my gas meter and had the gas fitters do their final stuff so I had a working appliance with my gas range when the gas company lady showed up. Anyway, I now have a working refrigerator and stove, but it will be a while before the kitchen cabinets are ready.

I decided that rather than just pick up the pump from the ferry, that I would cross the river and do some shopping for door latches and locks in particular to match the ones I had purchased earlier, and to get the deadbolt that was out of stock, as well as to have them all rekeyed to one key. I checked on the web for Lowes where I had purchased the original locks, and behold, my brand was on 50% off special, so decided to really go whole hog and get the hardware for all my doors. Went smoothly, except that it turned out that Lowes is terminating the lock brand, so it was hit or miss if any store had what I needed in stock. The service people at my first encounter didn’t have what I needed but another store only about 8 miles away had some of what I needed. So off I went. I got several of the locks and deadbolts and passage hardware that I needed but not everything. It was going to take almost 2 hours to get my locks rekeyed, 3 sets of exterior locks and deadbolts, so I took the time to visit two other Lowes stores each within 20 minutes of that location, and planned to hit a 5th one that was on the path back to the ferry. Still can’t believe the density of Lowes stores in the Detroit suburbs, and all but one of them had a Home Depot virtually across the street. I was only able to get two more of the closet and bath/bed privacy latches, but got a very close match with Weiser brand in appearance although not the solid brass hardware like the Gatehouse locks I was getting on special. Interestingly when I checked at the new Lowes store in London on the Canadian side of the border, no special on the Gatehouse locks, and no sign that they are being discontinued. The big difference was in price, the fancy main entry set I got for $59 US was $159 Canadian and the currencies are almost on par right now.  The  Weiser locks were a good buy, about $10  less than Canadian prices but nothing like the closeouts.

Working stove and range hood.

Hot water storage tank in mechanical room, heat exchangers installed and solar panel drainback tank on top.

All three panel bases assembled and positioned as they will be on the roof.

Scaffolding and foot rail in place for installing solar panels on the south face of the roof.

In preparation for mounting the solar panels 2×8 backing pieces were screwed between the trusses flush to the back of the roof deck, place such that the mounting feet would be centered over them. Thus the lag bolts which would penetrate the shingles and deck would be solidly attached into that mounting block. Took a couple days of thinking and planning and actually executing to get the preparation done for the panels working in the attic under the roof.

The roof was set up on the day of installation with 2×6 or 2×8 planks cut to hold the feet in the proper location over the securing block under the roof. The manifold frames were placed on the roof, fastened together with the brass unions between them, and then positioned laterally so no foot was over a shingle seam. Pilot holes were drilled, filled with silicone caulk, and then the lag bolts secured to fasten the frame and seal the roof penetration.

Solar panel manifolds and frames installed on the roof with interconnections. Ron Challis my neighbor and assistant in the operation.

Solar panel mounts with the supporting spacers removed.

On my Monday trip into London, for dental appointment, and choir practice, I scored track light fixtures at Costco. They are brushed nickel, Energy Star with CFLs in them. Fixture and lights $35 and quite handsome. May be retrofittable with LED lights when the price comes down. I also got tiles for the floors of my bathrooms, now just have to get organized to start on the tile work after I have solar panel and hot water details finished. Plumbers are scheduled to come in and hook up city water and plumb domestic hot water and radiant heat system on Tuesday Nov 16, so things should be percolating along.

New track light fixtures mounted on great room ceiling.

Kelly from CPE arrived with a helper on Tuesday afternoon, and then again for a few hours on Wednesday. Not complete, and still no water hooked up, but many benchmarks of the system are done. The circulation loop from the Takagi Jr. tankless natural gas water heater to the water storage tanks is complete. A small bronze Taco 006 pump is controlled by the solar panel controller computer to circulate water from the tank through the heater and bring the temp up to standard when the solar panels are either not hot enough or no sun is shining. The system is a “drainback” hot water system, otherwise known as an open or non-pressurized sytem. There is a drainback reservoir which sits above the main water/heat storage tank and a circulating pump moves the water from that tank up to the solar panels. More accurately it draws water through the heat exchanger in the storage, up to the panels, back to the drainback tank, and then down through the heat exchanger heating the water in the tank, and then back around the loop. When the sensor in the solar panel shows that the temperature difference is too small for effective heat capture (either because the sun is not shining, or the storage tank temperature is up to the maximum) the pump turns off. Since the system is open with a vent to the atmosphere in the drainback tank, and the pipes and solar panels are all sloped so the water drains efficiently back to the 10 gallon drainback tank, leaving the pipes and solar collector manifold empty. The benefit of this system is that it is simpler and has less hassles in meeting standards for pressure and freedom from leaks which is necessary in a closed system. The closed system also must be filled with antifreeze (Glycol) which is expensive compared to water, and requires an extra pump and arrangement for heat dumping when the storage volume is up to spec and the sun is still shining. The drainback system just empties out and heat dumping is not an issue. This approach is particularly simple when dealing with an evacuated tube/heat pipe collector which has a very small volume of fluid in the manifold, so the drainback approach works very nicely. The flat panel collectors apparently can also use drainback, but the mechanics of getting complete emptying of the loop are more complicated.

Below are pictures of the present status of the solar collector and radiant heating plumbing.

Plumbing of the hot water storage tank, lines and pump to the backup heat source from the tankless natural gas water heater. Pump will be controlled by the solar panel controller.

A slightly different angle, showing the two other pumps, up top to send water to the solar panels, below the circulator for the radiant heat in the floors, at bottom the manifold for the radiant circuits. On the shelf above is the drainback tank for the solar collector circuit.

Circulating pump and radiant heat manifold for the garage/workshop.

In the attic looking from the access door over the box of pipe insulation to the far west end of the pipe to the collectors.

Looking east under the trusses to the far end of the collectors and the turn of the pipes down to the mechanical room. Some insulation on the pipes.

Looking from the ceiling over the mechanical room up the insulated pipes feeding the collectors.

Plumbing complete on the workshop radiant heat manifold and pump.

Plumbing complete on the radiant heat, solar circuits, and domestic hot water connections. City water is now connected.

Plumbing complete to the west end of the solar panels with insulation in place

Feed and return pipes emerging from the mechanical room.

The dividing point where feed and return pipes diverge to go to the opposite ends of the solar array. Note the slope in the lines to give efficient drainback when the pump turns off.

Looking down the pipes to the penetration point into the mechanical room. Note the red wire which connects the temperature sensor in the solar array to the control computer below.